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Watching my Moroccan American sons savor the World Cup

The author's son, waving a towel from his birth country of Morocco, during the World Cup. (Jackie Spinner)
4 min

My 8-year-old came home from school this week with some bad news. His third-grade teacher, he told me, was an Argentina fan.

In fact, among his close peers, my Moroccan-born son couldn’t find anyone rooting for his homeland in the World Cup.

And with that, it felt like nobody was rooting for him.

Although he attends a culturally diverse school in Chicago, with multiple languages spoken, my son and his brothers are some of the few Black students. They also are adopted and neurodiverse, which sets them apart even from the other Moroccan kids.

It’s hard to be 8 and to be different.

But the World Cup and Morocco’s Cinderella advance to the semifinals this week gave my middle son, like so many others in the Moroccan diaspora, a chance to celebrate his identity, no matter how complicated, no matter that it is still forming.

Morocco departs with one last cheer and one new global reputation

It’s been moving to watch him and his brothers embrace their heritage in a way I don’t typically see outside Morocco. After each win, I met them after school with the good news. Morocco beat Canada! Morocco beat Spain! We waved flags all the way home.

On Wednesday, I took them out of school for the semifinal match against France. This was more than a soccer game. This was a historic moment for the world’s African, Arab and Muslim global citizens. The semifinal against France, which is home to a huge Moroccan diaspora, also was a social studies lesson about politics and colonies and fights for independence.

It was a lesson about choice and what, of our past, we decide to keep.

For Morocco, a World Cup run that transcends the sport

We talked about all of that as we walked to the storied Alhambra Palace on the west side of Chicago where the Moroccan community was gathering to watch the game on giant screens. My Moroccan colleague, who is president of the Institute for Global Arab Media and Democracy, had invited us and then sat us in the front. My sons felt like Moroccan royalty.

My oldest son, who is 10, wrapped himself in a Moroccan-flag beach towel purchased at the Marjane supermarket on our last trip there in 2020. He was dressed in the national team’s jersey, as he had been for every game during the cup. I have jerseys in every size for the boys as they grow older, just in case there are years in between our visits to Morocco.

As their mother, raising three boys in a transracial family, I am responsible for giving my sons Morocco until they choose their allegiance for themselves. They are dual citizens, and our home is filled with Moroccan treasures. I laugh when Moroccan friends tell me our home is more Moroccan than theirs. But it has to be, because I don’t have a Moroccan history of my own to give them.

Today's WorldView: Morocco’s showdown with France carried complex political baggage

Because they are still young — the smallest brother is just 4 — I often think I love Morocco more than my boys do, especially when I ask them to wear traditional Moroccan clothes for special occasions.

I love Morocco because this is the country that made me a mother. In a matrimonial dance, I take their customs as my own, because it is the only way I can hold Morocco for them until they reach for it on their own.

For Morocco’s diaspora, numbered at 5 million globally, the Atlas Lions gave them a chance to stand together, without the usual explanation demanded of people with accents or brown skin who have different religious observances or customs, who aren’t European and White.

Morocco mourns loss to France after World Cup run that energized region

When the Lions walked onto the field in Qatar, the first Arab country to host a World Cup, my sons stood with their compatriots in a gilded ballroom in Chicago. I then watched as my 8-year-old mouthed the words to the Moroccan national anthem, his ball cap and hand over his heart like the American boy he also is.

It’s one of the greatest gifts that their American citizenship gives them. America is a place of people from everywhere in the world. In its ideal, it is a place that makes room for all of us. I believe this potential exists even when it falls short. I have to believe this. I am raising immigrants in America.

My sons are not avid soccer fans. My 8-year-old plays American flag football with his best friend, who is of Puerto Rican and Lebanese heritage and roots for Ohio University in college football. But in that moment on Wednesday, even in the heartbreak of the loss to France, none of that mattered.

They were Moroccan boys, and they were home.

World Cup in Qatar

World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.

Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.

Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.